OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - The president of Burkina Faso was back in charge on Wednesday and said he would resume overseeing a transition to democracy, ending a coup by presidential guard soldiers who took him hostage last week.
Michel Kafando addressed his supporters and West African leaders who flew to the capital of the West African state to negotiate the terms of the end to the coup, in which troops under General Gilbert Diendere briefly took power.
Diendere had greeted the heads of state from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Niger at the airport earlier in the day, giving the impression he was still in charge. But he did not attend Kafando’s speech and later said he regretted the coup.
National elections, scheduled for Oct. 11, were meant to mark a return to democracy in Burkina Faso, a year after demonstrators toppled President Blaise Compaore as he attempted to extend his 27-year rule, but it was not clear if they would go ahead on schedule.
Kafando’s task was to guide the country to that vote, a process seen as a beacon for democratic hopes in Africa at a time when leaders from Rwanda to Congo Republic appear to be maneuvering to scrap term limits to extend their rule.
“If ever there was a transition to be held up as an example, it is indeed ours,” Kafando said.
Supporters chanted “Presi, Presi, Presi” as he took the podium at a conference center in the capital Ouagadougou.
“I can assure you that we are determined to carry on with the mission the Burkinabe people have entrusted us with, to build strong institutions and a real democracy,” he said, thanking the international community for condemning the coup.
The leaders from ECOWAS — the Economic Community of West African States — later met the coup leaders and transitional authorities.
While Kafando’s restoration marks the end of the coup attempt, questions remain, including how to disarm the presidential guard and whether the coup leaders will be brought to trial. Many in the country said they opposed an initial ECOWAS proposal that included amnesty for the coup leaders.
It was also unclear whether several of Compaore’s allies will now be allowed to contest the elections. Their exclusion was cited by Diendere among the main reasons for his coup.
“The putsch is over .... We have to find a way to make peace, stability .... There were victims and wounded and it’s my biggest regret,” Diendere told journalists, adding that he took responsibility.
The presence of the foreign leaders signaled international concern for Burkina Faso, an ally of the United States and France in their battle against Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda in the Sahel region.
Kafando was accompanied at the ceremony by Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, who was held for days after soldiers stormed a cabinet meeting last Wednesday, and the head of the transitional parliament, Moumina Cheriff Sy.
Earlier in the afternoon, presidential guard soldiers maintained their positions at the national television station, but Diendere said they were all back in their barracks, as agreed in a deal overnight made with loyalist forces.
Following the deal, loyalist troops, who converged on the capital this week from bases across the country to disarm the coup leaders, were also not visible on the streets.
Hospital sources said at least 10 civilians died and 123 were injured as security forces suppressed protests against the coup. Some Ouagadougou residents said they did not want Diendere, a former intelligence chief, to be allowed to leave the country before facing justice.
Life in Ouagadougou began to return to normal following a stand-off on Tuesday between pro- and anti-coup forces.
Shops opened and the city’s residents poured onto the streets in a rush to shop for Thursday’s celebration of Tabaski, or Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice.
“I am happy that Kafando is back in power. But nothing is resolved. We are still being held hostage by the RSP (presidential guard). I am also worried about the security situation,” said resident Idrissa Ouedraogo.
Additional reporting by Joe Penney in Ouagadougou and Makini Brice in Dakar; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; editing by Larry King